Dry Cleaning, Youth Ministry, and the Art of Kintsugi.

I had just finished my sophomore year of college in the summer of 2000, and had trekked back home across country with a friend of mine ready to make some money that summer. Dad had recently been re-diagnosed with a brain tumor, I had academic probation looming, and hadn’t yet told my parents about my bad grades. I figured making money that summer would help out a ton. The job fell through. I was at an all time low. I got frustrated, and went and signed on with a door to door sales company that I saw online. They promised huge commissions and easy work. I spent the next few weeks walking door to door training to sell small businesses on switching their credit card processing to whoever our client was. I was terrible at sales, still am.

I hadn’t made any money past my two week training period, and was starting to get desperate. I was on my feet driving and walking all day in a dress shirt, tie, and really uncomfortable dress shoes in one of the most beautiful places to be during the summer. One Wednesday morning I managed to get a dry cleaner to sign on with our company. They family owned business was eager to save money. I was glad to finally get a sale. There was only one problem.

I lied to make the sale.

I remember driving home across the lake during lunch ashamed of what I had done. How could I look my parents in the eye later that day? I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror.

I got home and ripped off my tie and threw it down on the driveway. My next door neighbor saw me, and asked what had me so pissed off.

After I told him that I hated my job, he told me he hated my job too. He owned a landscaping company and said he needed another english speaking guy on his crew to help deal with installs. It was tough work, but it was outside in one of the most pleasant places in the US during the summer. I accepted his offer, got in my car, drove 30 min back to the dry cleaners and told them to tear up the paperwork, and not trust anyone that came unsolicited through the door offering them ways to save money.

I sat in the car and prayed. I prayed that God would forgive me for ripping people off. For being so arrogant to assume that money would solve my problems. I was tired of having my priorities out of whack, and I knew that I didn’t want to be part of that system. I knew that there was another way of life for me that I had been ignoring.

It was at the little dry cleaner’s that I decided to become a youth minister.

Youth ministry had been on the horizon for a while, and it seemed like everyone else knew I would end up there. My parents knew, but were wise enough to let me figure it out myself. My friends knew. My professors knew. Everyone at my church seemed to know too. It seemed like the biggest surprise was not me telling everyone that I was going to change my career trajectory, but that it had taken me so long to figure it out.

I drove from the dry cleaner back to the home office, told my boss that I was quitting (her and the other lead were more upset about their lost commission) and drove home.

The next day I woke up early, put on some work shoes and gloves, and spent the rest of the summer installing yards and sprinklers, breaking up concrete and rough soil. It was perfect. Me and God had plenty of time for conversation. I ended up helping out with the youth ministry as a volunteer that summer as well. I came back and did the same the summer after my junior year. I was hooked.

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold, creating a unique value in a broken object. Often times, the objects take on a greater beauty than before, and their value grows because of the unique nature of every repair.

I’m up in the Seattle area this weekend for my 20 year high school reunion. There’s several places that I wanted to visit while I’m here, and this little dry cleaner is one of them. It’s not much of a tourist attraction (actually, it’s not even open anymore) but it’s an important place for me. It’s a place where God starting pouring a little gold.

Advertisements

Tuesdays with Carl.

I met my friend Carl about 9 years ago when I started working at my previous church. Carl was in his late 70’s at the time, and served as counselor working out of our church. He offered to buy me lunch one Tuesday and we hit it off immediately. Walking across the street to grab lunch with Carl became a regular Tuesday event.

I can not understate how important his role as a friend and mentor was at that time in my life. I was coming off of a tough departure from my previous church, the church we worked for was navigating tough waters at that time, and my dating life was less than stellar. I was in my late 20’s, and in a place where it seemed like every big decision was like untying a giant knot. Carl taught me how to untie those knots. He consistently spoke in a gentle, clear, voice that dripped with Holy wisdom. He used scriptures as a powerful catalyst for thought, and as a razor sharp blade to cut through chaos.

Carl was also the first person to recognize that Stacy, my wife of three years, had that potential to be ‘the one’. His words of affirmation helped me navigate our relationship from simply talking, to dating, to proposal, and they still ring in my ears as our family continues to grow.

One of my favorite stories of the New Testament is the mentorship of Paul to Timothy. Paul, the wise veteran of faith takes this young man, Timothy, under his wing and helps shape him become a leader of the early church. Paul speaks to Timothy with respect, clarity, and a clear sense of purpose. He speaks as a man who is a few turns ahead on the trail, constantly relaying back detail on how to navigate potentially treacherous terrain.

We should all have a Paul, and be a Timothy.

We Should all have a Timothy, and be a Paul.

I think our culture is primed for a resurgence of the male mentor. We live in a time where so many young men are expected to be strong, but we don’t know what it means to be strong. Our male role models are increasingly limited, and often are caricatures created by Hollywood to entertain. How many of us would benefit from having a deep, meaningful, consistent conversation with someone we respected for their wisdom?

Carl was that mentor for me. He passed last night surrounded by family, encouraging him to embrace the reward for his faithful life. I will miss my friend and my mentor, but any sadness I might have is quickly overcome by appreciation for this man who embraced the spirit of Paul for me.

I’ve always felt like the best way to mourn someone who was faithful, was to live in a way that shows respect for the way they loved the Lord. I try and model my marriage and parenting after my dad, my youth ministry after my youth minister, and I guess now my ‘Paul and Timothy’ opportunities after my friend Carl.

I look forward to finding the next Paul in my life, and the next Timothy as well.

I think Carl would agree.

One love, one heart.

The Back To School Post.

This is the time of year where most of the people in my ministry, parents and teens alike, are focused on heading back to school. A lot of my conversations with teens revolve around preparing for the start of a new year, and laying a foundation for healthy, balanced growth. Here are a few things I like to share, divided up by grade/age group.

To parents:

Put the big rocks first. If you feel the faith development of your child is a priority, make it a priority. Often, that means putting church on the calendar first before extra curricular activities. It may mean saying no to other activities that are more ‘fun’ or ‘college-friendly’. Your kids will find a way to have fun; over-scheduling their lives is not the way to achieve that goal. Also, many colleges like seeing a well-balanced applicant, and “this teen has consistently been a great leader in our youth ministry” looks awesome on a college application. Either way, sending your kid off to college with a solid faith should be priority number one.

Tweens:

Heading into Jr High may seem scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Right now is a great time to decide how you are going to make and keep friendships. Be kind to people, watch out for those who are being made fun of, and don’t worry too much about being ‘different’ (embrace it!). If you need any help on how to treat people, now is a good time to read up on how Jesus treated those around him.

Jr High kiddos:

You’ve got a ton of energy, and the instinct will be to move first and think things through later. Take a minute to think about what you’re about to do or say, and ask yourself, “is this right?”. You should have a pretty good handle on that by now. And for those situations that you don’t know, or have made a mistake, own up quickly and take the chance to learn. The consequences for learning these tough lessons without serious ramifications is going to run out soon. Start praying on your own, without a prompt from your parents or YM. Taking the time to pray is often the exact type of slowing down that you’ll need to make wise decisions. And if you need help, ask.

9th graders:

It’s okay to be a little overwhelmed by High School. The workload is tougher, the expectations are higher, and there’s this whole figuring-out-who-I-am thing going on the whole time. Take time to play, and take time to be still. Our culture has a set of expectations for high school that are propped up by Hollywood. Very few of them are true, and you don’t have to fit into their stereotypes. Your true identity is found in your faith, so give your faith some exercise… daily. The basis of your friendships will likely change from proximity to deeply shared beliefs. Develop your beliefs, speak about them, and learn how to share them with others without demeaning others. Read Romans a few times and let it challenge you and help you figure out who you are.

10th and 11th graders:

Your parents love you. Remember that.

You’ve figured out that High School is so much more than what you learn in class. Congratulations. You’ve probably also started to narrow down your interests to a few things, which is great. Dive into your hobbies and passions, they may be the key to finding a career that you’ll love later on in life. Yes, decisions you’re making now may affect the rest of your life. Try not to stress out about that too much, focus on making good decisions today. Jesus himself said that every day has enough worries of its own, and there’s a good chance that you’re right in the middle of that statement. The cool thing is, when you focus on making wise decisions on a daily basis, the days start to add up to a lifetime of wisdom. Draw that wisdom from God and you’ll navigate whatever the next few years throw at you.

Treat homework like a job. The more homework you do now, that more that will pay off, financially and from a discipline standpoint. I once estimated how many hours I spent doing homework, and how much money I received in college scholarships, and figured that I made about $15/hour. That was back in the 90’s. And not taking into consideration how much I would have saved paying off interest on student loans. The bottom line: put your work in now, it pays off later. But don’t break yourself in the name of good grades. Good habits > good grades. That means spending time on your faith too. It also means going outside and playing every once in a while. That’s right, it’s still okay to be a kid once in a while.

Seniors:

Congrats on being at the top of the food chain! (don’t laugh college kids, they’ll know soon enough). This will be the year that will bring the most temptations to check out of church. Don’t. Your presence and maturity can be a huge blessing to the younger crew, even on the toughest of days. You know your right from wrong, and it’s time to lead others. Wether that’s serving in the children’s wing, or just providing a good example for those a few years behind you, you have a unique opportunity to bless others.

Don’t get caught up in the pressures of your Senior year. Academically, you should know that the work load is going to be difficult. You’ve probably also figured out how to balance that work load with the rest of life. There’s this amazing word ‘no’ that you’ll have to use with your friends every once in a while. Fear of missing out is real, but don’t fall victim to FOMO. Nobody can say yes to every opportunity that comes their way and survive. No, not even the busiest of your friends can do it all.

Start up on the search for college as soon as you can. Figure out how you’re going to search for colleges. (Here’s my post on how to tackle this beast.) Set aside time with your parents (they’re the ones that still feed you when you check in at home every once in a while) to talk college, or whatever plans you have for after high school. Treat your college search like a job and make progress weekly, so you’re not overwhelmed when all of your Senior projects are due the same time as your applications.

College freshmen:

Find a church home. Plug in. Serve. Say yes to what you can, and don’t regret saying no to things that you can’t do. Make friends with people who bless your life, and avoid those who only add drama. Take the time to re-adjust who you are. You’ve got the opportunity to start over and learn from your high school mistakes. Do it.

Don’t get any tattoos. As much as you’ve changed since you were 12… that much change is about to happen in the next few years. And then it’ll happen again around the time you graduate. Seriously, this is the worse time in your life to get a tattoo. If your idea survives the next few years, get it then.

You may notice that your parents may not seem as smart as they once were. You’re wrong. They’re about to become geniuses. Be sure to thank them every time you come home with truckloads of laundry, and sleep for days on end.

Take advantage of the opportunities that will come your way. The world loves to help someone who is actively working hard to make their life better. That ends once you graduate and you’re another person looking for a job.

Most importantly, remember your faith, and put it into action. That whole serving part I mentioned before… it’s the best way to grow your faith. Putting your faith into action is putting flesh onto your beliefs, and will make the words of Jesus pop off the pages like never before. You’re at the cross section of life where energy and opportunity intersect, and God has amazing things for you to do in His name.

One love, one heart.

I was just thinking about you…

Today marks seven years since the passing of my youth minister, John Austin Smith. It’s a bittersweet day for those of us who knew him, because the memories of joy, deep conversation and massive bear hugs associated with him are in stark contrast to the feelings of sadness that comes from missing our dear friend. I suppose as always the best place to find peace is in the comfort of knowing that he is in the full presence of our Lord, whom he served so openly, and with complete abandon.

When people ask why I got into youth ministry, I often joke that its part of a penance program for what I did to my old youth minister. The truth is, John called all of us into ministry in different ways. He serves as a constant reminder of what it looks like when we completely give our hearts over to Christ, and look for ways to constantly and creatively love our neighbors in a powerful way.

Today, that’s what I’m missing most about John Austin, I miss deep conversations about things that matter to the soul. I miss hearing him laugh, and I miss the way that he would articulate Godly wisdom in a way that provide the push that we needed to hear.

I wish that my current youth ministry could meet him, and hear his crazy stories. I wish that the young man at our church who is named after John Austin could meet the man behind the stories. I wish that he could have met my wife, and bless her with the kind words I grew up with. As with so many of our fallen friends, I wish that we could have that one more conversation.

So tonight, a group of us will gather in his honor. We’ll catch up, share stories, pictures and jokes from back in the day. We’ll spend most of our time laughing, and enjoying being in the presence of friends, because that’s how we want to remember our John Austin Smith. My prayer is that we also search our hearts for the presence of Christ, and fully embrace living from that place where he lived, in a way that he lived, and for whom he lived.

One love, one heart.

Ramblings: The Super Bowl, Hot Tamales, and Leadership Development.

The whole aftermath of the Super Bowl focusing on Cam Newton would make me really mad if I was a Broncos fan. Manning is the sentimental story, this moment should be about him riding off into the sunset. And about dropping Budweiser and God both into his post-game speech.

The real story of the Super Bowl should be Von Miller. Yikes. All of the sudden I don’t feel so bad about the Charger losing a couple of games to Broncos this season. Miller is a beast, and I’m glad he got MVP.

The advertising background in me always gets excited to see what the best and brightest come up with for the big game, so this year was an overall letdown. What a waste of Anthony Hopkins selling out. I’m guessing ad agency talent is being directed somewhere else besides tv commercials at this point.

The whole Chargers thing is a mess. Committing to another year in SD the same day they sign an agreement with the Rams ownership is like telling your girlfriend you want to stay together right after signing a lease on a new place with someone else.

I’ve been pretty vocal about how much of a tool Spanos has been in this mess, but make no mistake, the city of San Diego needs to share in the blame. Both sides have shown little regards for the people of San Diego, and one side is going to end up looking like a hero if the Chargers do manage to stay.

Buying new tires may be on of the most frustrating car maintenance purchases. Normally, something that expensive means it’s too complicated to understand if you’re not a mechanic. Tires go in circles, it’s pretty easy.

I can’t wait for baseball season. I know the Padres are in unofficial rebuilding mode, so my expectations aren’t that high. Hopefully this will make the season that much easier to enjoy. Also, we have the All-Star Game this year. I went in 92 and have plans to go this year as well. Stoked doesn’t begin to describe my excitement for those festivities.

What kind of 7-11 doesn’t carry Hot Tamales?

Pacystace and I have found ourselves really interested in the People vs OJ series. I can’t begin to explain why. I didn’t realize that we have that trial to blame for the groundwork of the Kardashian family mess taking over pop culture. Now I don’t like OJ even more.

I’ve been listening to a lot of indie-punk lately. Everything from late 90’s Piebald to the latest Prawn album. There’s something so appealing to about listening to music that could have been written by the guys in the garage next door.

90’s Ska/Punk is still king of my iTunes though.

A couple of weeks ago our staff did some leadership development training with Eric Metcalf from Community Christian Church based out of Chicago. One of the big takeaways for the process of developing leaders was the three-step process of: Identify potential, give a task to complete, then give something that stretches abilities. Seems so simple, but I can see where I, and other leaders could easily skip one of those. If you miss out on identifying abilities, you assign the wrong things to the wrong people and it won’t stick. Not giving an initial task can cause someone to be overwhelmed by going immediately to something over their head. Not stretching someone leads to complacency and boredom.

Instagram is making it easier to switch between multiple accounts. That’s actually been my only frustration with app. I’m declaring them the winner in social media outlet of choice (sorry friendster). Representing a few distinct entities (church, camp, myself) got a whole lot easier to keep separate. Now, if they would go back to only square photos.

Undercover Boss: Kylo Ren may be the funniest SNL video short of the 2010’s.

One love, one heart.